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Jazzy standards, loads of fancy foot work
and a quest for civil rights

"Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr."
Black Ensemble Theater
Chicago, IL
December 21, 2017
Sammy Sammy

Story by Andy Argyrakis
Publicity photos by Alan Davis

Whether he was performing in vaudeville or Las Vegas, making the rounds with the Rat Pack or Hollywood's leading ladies from the silver screen, Sammy Davis Jr. was a true original who's larger than life personality is still filling rooms nearly three decades since the world lost the legend. In fact, "The Dance Theater Season" at the Black Ensemble Theater is going out with a bang thanks to the singing/slickly choreographed showbiz tribute "Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr.," which continues into early 2018.

While this salute spends much of its time in music with leads shared between the majority of the reverent cast, it also provides some glimpses into life behind the curtain through both narrated segments and live acting. One of the more striking scenes comes when Sammy stands up against segregation by insisting to stay in the same hotel he's headlining, and while the sensible request is initially denied, his refusal to back down is just one example of a tireless crusade for civil rights.

Though Davis Jr. wound up becoming one of the most valued campaigners for eventual President John F. Kennedy, his interracial marriage at a time when it was illegal in several states caused a retraction of an invitation to the White House, though Rat Pack pal Dean Martin (Mark Yacullo) refused to attend in defense of his friend. "Sammy" also focuses on tons of happier times, including several alongside Frank Sinatra (Nathan Cooper) such as their friendly rivalry over recording varying versions of "I've Got You Under My Skin."

Even a harrowing car accident that resulted in Davis Jr. needing a glass eye didn't derail his career with lead actor Michael Adkins being one of the many marvels who dared step into some extremely intricate footwork that only got more complicated for that comeback. And vocally speaking, Dwight Neal (Sammy Davis Sr.) was a dead ringer for the musical's namesake, who not only kept a consistent presence throughout the jazzy crooner's era thanks to signatures "What Kind Of Fool Am I?" and "I've Gotta Be Me," but morphed into "The Candy Man," experimented with country, Motown and so much more.

While most of "Sammy" paints the entertainer aspect of its subject in flattering light, a particularly human moment comes when May Britt (Emily Hawkins) leaves him over lengthy absences from home, increasing drinking and constant unfaithfulness. In the end, Davis Jr. falls victim to yet another vice, smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, but a fighter until the end, he goes out with Ol' Blue Eyes' adage of doing it entirely his way and leaving behind a sizeable legacy that literally takes an entire ensemble to properly replicate.

"Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr." continues at the Black Ensemble Theater through Jan. 21. For additional details, visit

Sammy Sammy

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